Monday, October 26, 2015

Freedom to Fail (#flipclass flashblog)

Creating a positive environment starts within. Whether it is within the classroom or throughout the campus, my attitude is where it starts. It is amazing how much a simple smile and a kind word can change a room. While this may sound cheesy, think about how you feel when you enter a room and are greeted kindly or ignored. Where would you rather be? Once you have this started, you have to maintain a feeling of teamwork, worth and involvement through any struggle you face.

We have a common goal, great educational opportunities. As teachers we create and nurture these for our students to take advantage. Getting to those opportunities requires more than planning great activities; it helps to look at the process. With students or colleagues we all respond better when we are an included part of a team. All ideas are considered while struggles and critiques are acknowledged. It is important to let folks follow their path to reach the goal. My choices do not reflect those of others. As long as they are within the boundaries of the class or campus expectations, they should be valid options. With the freedom to choose a path, we need to approach others without judgement. Their path will be different, and we may not see how it will work, but it is their path and it might be a great choice.

With choice comes the opportunity to fail, learn and try again. When the path is not prescribed, we must take chances. It is much easier to do this in an environment that will support reflection and correction. It is nearly impossible to take those chances where failure is a possible final result. Choice and risk taking provides opportunities to learn and grow. Make it about learning. For students the grades will come, for teachers the process will be more rewarding.

 This year I have continued to teach high school seniors and work with teachers implementing technology. Both require the opportunity to try, fail, and try again to become successful. I have found that those moments where the success comes after struggle are the sweetest.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Creating an Environment for Learning (#flipclass flashblog)

We all know that students, especially high school students, will say whatever they are thinking.  For good or bad it is what it is. There have been some days when I was not happy about that. But I have had at least two days, one last year and again last Friday, where I wanted to hug the whole class and perhaps the whole world.

In both cases we were having a conversation about what makes this class different. Last year the students were creating a proposal presentation for administrators about our quadcopter project. This year we were just talking about what we learned from our first project, the big bubble, which would help us with our next, solar charging stations. Both times, without prompting, students described the class as one that learning and performance were most important. (This is where I wish I had a rewind button and could play it for you!) I teared up and really wanted to hug the students who said this.

I am still trying to figure out how I created this. It was always a goal, but I really didn’t have a concrete plan, just a lot of hope. Here are some of the things I think have contributed.

                I’m not the smartest in the room. Students have a say and are encouraged to be the experts.
                Late grades only exist if you don’t make an effort. Effort gives you the time you need to succeed.
                Most activities have rubrics. Students know what is expected of them before they start, while they are working and when they are assessed. They also know what they need to fix once assessed. I do let them correct their work if they wish.

                Students are allowed to choose how they show their learning.

Having students see the importance of learning is one of my goals as an educator. Students have reported other benefits of this learning environment. They include much lower grade stress, increased enjoyment of science and students choosing to perform at high levels.

I love what I teach and appreciate the freedom giving to me by the curriculum and support from my administration. It gives me the opportunity to try new things that improve student learning.